Plant ‘probiotics’: Feeding crops good bacteria may prevent pest damage without chemicals

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Rows of tomato plants

Scientists have developed plant ‘probiotics’ that help fight disease without the use of expensive pesticides. UK researchers say beneficial bacteria in soil supports plants’ immune systems in a similar way to positive gut bacteria in humans.

By injecting probiotics into a plant’s growth medium, they hope to create ideal growing conditions for herbs, fruits and vegetables while avoiding bugs.

Somewhere between 20 to 40 percent of global crop production are lost to pests, while diseases cost the global economy around $220 billion, according to the UN.

Researchers say plant probiotics will particularly benefit crops grown without soil in enclosed and sterile conditions that are susceptible to disease.

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Experts at the University’s Institute for Sustainable Food have launched a study into how beneficial bacteria protect plants’ health – in a similar way to gut bacteria in humans. Using tomato plants, the team will now use genetics and biochemistry to gain an understanding of how roots interact with beneficial microbes in soil.

‘Scientists have learned a lot in recent years about how beneficial bacteria in our guts keep use healthy – and we believe the same is true for plants,’ said Professor Duncan Cameron, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield.

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